A common visitor to much of the United States in winter months, white-crowned sparrows are often seen foraging in backyards and grasslands from late fall to early spring. But where do they go to breed? And when is the best time to start looking out for white-crowned sparrows in your yard? Keep reading if you’ve ever wondered where they go when they disappear each spring.
White-crowned sparrows breed in far northern Canada, as well as in parts of the western United States. They are commonly spotted across the U.S. in winter months, with large numbers migrating as far south as Mexico.
Along the west coast of the U.S. and in a handful of areas further inland, primarily in Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, white-crowned sparrows are permanent residents and can be seen foraging for seeds in grassy areas, or hopping underneath backyard bushes and shrubs, in search of fruit and buds all year round.
To learn more about the preferred habitats of white-crowned sparrows and to find out what landscapes they may be found in at different times of year, then please read on.
In the winter months, White-crowned sparrows are fairly common across western states in the US
White-crowned sparrows are present across most of North America, either for breeding, in migration passage, overwintering, or in some cases, resident in their breeding territories throughout the year. In winter, their range extends to Mexico, where many birds that breed in the Arctic migrate to avoid the coldest conditions each year.
White-crowned sparrows are a common and abundant species across the western United States, but are more uncommon in eastern regions, and are considered rare in the extreme southeast corner of the country.
White-crowned sparrows are only rare and occasional visitors to Florida and the extreme southeastern regions of Georgia and South Carolina. All other states have at least a passing presence of the species, with migration passage common across northern and eastern regions of the country. Spring breeding grounds are located in Alaska, and parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
White-crowned sparrows are year-round residents along the coast of Washington, Oregon and California, as well as further inland, with permanent populations in Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and southern Idaho and Wyoming.
States south of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa and South Dakota welcome an increase in population in fall, with sightings more frequent in the western states than further east. The highest numbers of overwintering white-crowned sparrows head to Mexico, but the species is widespread across the southern U.S. until spring arrives and they head back to their northern breeding grounds.
White-crowned sparrows are present across most of North America, either for breeding, in migration passage, overwintering, or in some cases, resident in their breeding territories throughout the year
No white-crowned sparrows spend winter months in Canada, needing to head south to the more tolerable conditions of central and southern United States, and further down into Mexico.
Breeding is established across all but the iciest islands of northern Canada, with populations raising their young throughout Yukon, Northwest Territories and mainland Nunavut.
Further south, breeding also occurs in British Columbia and parts of western Alberta, and in the east, northern Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. White-crowned sparrows may commonly be seen during migration passage throughout the rest of the country.
In spring, white-crowned sparrows head for breeding grounds in taiga and tundra landscapes, with scrubland and chaparral offering suitable habitats. Bare stony foraging grounds, interspersed with clumps of dense shrubbery provide ideal nesting spots.
In winter, white-crowned sparrows can be found living in areas with a range of vegetation and landscape features, including hedgerows, desert scrub, brushlands, around the edges of woodlands and in backyards, visiting bird feeders.
White-crowned sparrow habitats vary depending on the time of year
How rare a white-crowned sighting depends on your geographical location and what season it is. They are considered a widespread and abundant species across most of the U.S., particularly in the western regions in winter months.
Further north, in spring, White-crowned sparrows are by no means uncommon. But the further east you go, the less likely you are to see one in spring or winter.
The further west you go, the more common white-crowned sparrows are, with numbers highest along the western coast of North America, from Alaska and British Columbia down to California.
The best place to see White-crowned sparrows is the western coast of North America, where they are a lot more common
Migratory white-crowned sparrows begin arriving on their wintering grounds from September onwards, with the highest numbers appearing in October and the final stragglers in place by mid-November.
Spring migration north may begin as early as mid-March, but white-crowned sparrows remain a common sight foraging at the edges of trails and under backyard feeders into April.
There is considerable variation in white-crowned sparrows’ migration patterns, with some populations remaining in the same territories all year round. Some are short-distance migrants, while others undertake long migrations covering thousands of kilometers.
Close up of a White-crowned sparrow foraging on the ground
Small populations in the southwest U.S. are resident year round and do not fly even further south in search of warmer weather. Migration south, into southern and central Mexico and the southern states of the U.S. is common among white-crowned sparrows that breed in Canada.
During winter, white-crowned sparrows are frequently seen foraging along the sides of roads, in weedy scrubland, agricultural land, backyards and patches of shrubbery.
White-crowned sparrows migrate from their breeding grounds in the icy northern extremes of Canada and Alaska south into the U.S. during early fall. The subzero conditions are intolerable for the species, and their survival depends on them spending winters in regions with warmer temperatures and abundant food resources.
Close up of a female White-crowned sparrow perched in a tree
Summer breeding grounds of white-crowned sparrows include Arctic tundras and taiga landscapes of northern Canada as well as coastal scrublands along the west coast of the United States.
In certain parts of the U.S., where winter temperatures are mild enough to support their nesting and feeding needs all year round, white-crowned sparrows are permanent residents, foraging on the edges of woodlands, grasslands, roadsides and backyards, and nesting in areas with patches of shrubby vegetation.
A territorial and solitary species in the breeding season, white-crowned sparrows form large winter flocks to forage and roost together.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.